Illinois man exonerated in double murder to which he had previously confessed

Zion police and Lake County, Illinois, prosecutors have been order to pay $2.23 million to a man who was wrongly convicted of and imprisoned for a double murder in Illinois in 1995. The man, who claims he was coerced into making a false confession and that for years law enforcement disregarded evidence that would have exonerated him, was released in 2010 after DNA evidence proved that another man had committed the crime. Lawsuits against other municipal units and officers are still pending.

False Confessions

An interesting facet in this case was the man's earlier confession of guilt. Now that it is clear he did not commit the double homicide for which he was accused, what possible motivation could he have had to admit to a crime, especially one as serious as murder, he didn't commit?

Surprisingly, false confessions are not that uncommon, says the Innocence Project, a national litigation and public policy organization that uses DNA testing to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals. In 25 percent of its DNA-exoneration cases, the wrongfully convicted person had made incriminating statements, made an outright confession or pled guilty to the crime of which she or he stood accused.

False Confessions Explained

In examining cases in which criminal defendants have made false confessions, the Innocence Project has identified factors that when present alone or in combination explain why a person would lie about committing a crime. These factors include:

  • Duress
  • Coercion
  • Diminished capacity (drugs and/or alcohol intoxication, mental impairment, mental illness)
  • Ignorance of the law
  • Fear of or actual infliction of physical harm
  • Threats of a harsh sentence
  • Misunderstanding of the situation
  • Length of interrogation

The confessions of juveniles/minors and children have also been found to be unreliable with respect to their validity because the ease with which they can be manipulated, the likelihood that they are not fully aware of the situation and the belief that they can "go home" if they confess or say what they think their interrogator wants them to say. Similarly, many adults with mental disabilities have learned or been taught never to challenge authority figures and will therefore make a false confession simply to accommodate a person in a position of authority.

The defendant in the Illinois double murder case claims that his false confession was the result of coercion, and an examination of the circumstances surrounding his confession support that claim. For example, he was interrogated intermittently over a period of time before confessing, indicating he was likely exhausted and not fully able to understand the situation. Furthermore, the man's confession, "I did it. Just write it down. Start this thing and send me to the judge," are the words of an exasperated man who just wants to "go home" and be left alone.

Speak To A Criminal Defense Attorney

When you are faced with allegations of criminal wrongdoing, working closely with a criminal defense lawyer who will explain clearly all rights, options and consequences can help to ensure that you make decisions that are in your interests.